PARMA, Italy—The region of Parma is known for producing Italy’s most delicious pork product, Parma Ham. There are 160 different production operations in the area, each with it’s own flavorful history. La Perla, one of the 160, is a family-owned and run operation that has been in business for 23 years. Carlo Lanfranchi and his brother took over for their father, and now produce over 50,000 hams a year.
That’s a lot of piggies headed to market.
However, the delicious, tender, and perfectly-salted prosciutto doesn’t magically appear overnight. It takes days of salting and months of drying to bring those piggies home.
The ham arrives at the factory already butchered and ready to start the salting process. First, the hams are completely coated in sea salt and stored on shelves in a freezer kept at 3 degrees Celsius for five days.
On the sixth day, hams are washed, then massaged, re-salted, and transferred to a second freezer. Here, the room is kept at 2 degrees Celsius, and the hams are stored for 15 days. The color of the meat begins to change from a bright pink to a darker, more subdued color, a signal of the transformation into prosciutto.
Next, the hams are once again washed, massaged, and re-salted; but instead of being placed on a shelf, they are now hung in rows to begin the drying process. The meat stays in a forced air ventilated room for four months, before being washed one final time, and hung unsalted in the storage room. Here, the meat stays hanging for six months until it is ready to be checked by the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma, the consortium with the last word on quality for the region.
This part of the process is extremely important—if the ham isn’t dried perfectly, it won’t receive the stamp of approval. The Consorzio mission is to defend “original” food production in Italy. The Consorzio’s review and stamp is needed before a product can officially become a Parma Ham.
Once the quality is confirmed, the ham is ready to be devoured. In Italy, the combination of ham and cantaloupe is a common and delightfully refreshing appetizer. The sweetness of the melon contrasted with the saltiness of the ham is wonderfully pleasing, and without a doubt worth six months of waiting. Of course, it’s tasty on a fresh slice of bread, too, as seen below.